I have expressed my qualms about seasons seven and eight of Game of Thrones in the past. But I’m not here to complain about shoddy battle tactics, “jet-packing” characters, or the abhorrent lack of dire wolves in recent seasons.
No, today my gripe is with a much more fundamental narrative thread, and the show’s utter ignorance of it in Sunday’s episode.
Beware… Here be spoilers!
I hope everyone reading knows that R + L = J.
As Mallory Rubin says in the “Talk the Thrones” podcast, Jon’s parentage is the single most pivotal bit of information in the entire series (books and TV).
The season six finale gave us the stunning, beautiful, heartfelt explanation that Jon Snow is the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. This sequence was written, shot, and acted with the gravitas that it deserved, with the import that viewers of the show and even readers of the books had hoped for–and deserved.
One of the key questions coming into season eight was how would the various characters deal with this news, since this would clearly be important for the overall arc of the season. How would Jon react to learning that Ned, the man he tried to emulate, was not in fact his father? How would Dany handle the idea that not only was she not the last Targaryen, but that her nephew had the better claim to the throne?
We saw those two reactions, fortunately.
But what about the other characters? Arya and Jon are brother and sister in the deepest sense of the words, and always have been. Sansa has been pushing Jon to be a better leader for three full seasons, and is a cunning politician in her own right who would understand the impact of Jon’s royal claim. And Tyrion was the first character we got to see really reach Jon, as a stranger, someone who was just another cast-off on Westeros’s heaping pile of “cripples, bastards, and broken things”. Tyrion would surely feel the immediate weight of this news, with his knowledge of history, right?
But instead of showing us those reactions, instead of letting the actors live in this singular moment that changes the entire complexion of the story, the camera cuts away from each character before they can react.
By cutting away before three of the most important characters on the show have a chance to react to this news, the producers and writers of Game of Thrones have made one thing abundantly clear: they’re not here for how these characters are connected. They don’t care enough to allow the viewers to live in those moments with Jon, Sansa, Arya, Tyrion, or anyone else.
They are only concerned with how those connections–which we’re meant to understand implicitly–dictate how the series ends. As with everything else the last two seasons, they are systematically glossing over the details, in order to provide spectacle. They have reduced one of the most significant fantasy stories in both literature and television to nothing more than an emotionally vacant summer blockbuster.
And I know, I know, there have been a lot of emotional notes this season, and scenes depicting those characters’ reaction to something take up valuable screentime in a terribly truncated version of a final season.
But why bother giving us 40 minutes of drunken hook-ups between our favorite characters, and not the sudden realization that Sansa has an alternative to Dany claiming the Iron Throne? Or that Arya’s brother is really her cousin?
I can forgive basically every other choice the producers have made for the sake of expediency, and because I know (and desperately hope) that the finished-in-my-lifetime books will do it better.
But for fuck’s sake did they drop the ball here.
I’m not out on Game of Thrones. I have invested way too much emotional capital in this story to quit just before the end. But I’m no longer counting on the series finale to be handled with the same deftness, care, and consideration that the first several seasons were. And that is a real shame.